Parliament backs Gozo-Malta tunnel

The Gozo tunnel project has received backing from the Nationalist Party with all MPs apart from those representing Partit Demokratiku, PD leader Godfrey Farrugia and PD MP Marlene Farrugia, voting in favour of the motion

Ian Borg said studies on the tunnel’s feasibility are to be published in the coming days
Ian Borg said studies on the tunnel’s feasibility are to be published in the coming days

The Gozo tunnel project has received backing from the Nationalist Party with Parliament approving a motion put forward by ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana seeking support for the major infrastructural endeavour.

All MPs apart from those representing Partit Demokratiku, PD leader Godfrey Farrugia and PD MP Marlene Farrugia, voted in favour of the motion.

PN spokesperson for Gozo Chris Said put forward a number of cosmetic amendments to the wording of the motion but assured the House the party was “wholeheartedly” behind the project. The government approved the majority, four out of six, of these amendments.

The two Democratic Party MPs opposed the project, insisting not enough information was available to determine whether it was feasible.
The vote in support of the tunnel cements the political consensus for this ambitious and controversial project.

Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg and Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana tabled the motion last week, in what was an unorthodox move. Caruana opened the debate by pointing out that there was going to be an element of continuity.

A Labour administration will be finishing what a Nationalist administration had started—the project was originally the brainchild of former PN minister Chris Said.

Said said Gozo’s accessibility is the lifeline of Gozo since “Gozitans depend exclusively on the accessibility of Gozo through Malta.”
He said the tunnel project motion was a positive thing, an effort to finally reach consensus between the two major parties so the permanent link between Malta and Gozo can be made a reality.

He argued that both the PN and the PL had the political commitment to complete this project, referring to a 2011 study by Mott MacDonald and commissioned by Transport Malta that concluded that a tunnel would be far more feasible than a bridge between the two islands.

He appealed to the government to not shy away from publishing all reports and assessments related to the project and to carry on with a wide consultation.

He then submitted a number of amendments to the motion, namely to ensure that all publications in terms of the project should be made available to the public and to mitigate the current connectivity problems between the island until the project is completed.

PN MP Frederick Azzopardi was the most critical of how the government had handled the project. He criticised the government for not encouraging public participation on the Malta-Gozo tunnel.

“In April of 2016, Joseph Muscat assured us that the environmental aspect would be given due attention with respect to the tunnel,” he said. “But the government closed any form of dicussion, telling 13 NGOs that the Gozo tunnel will take place, even though no studies had been published. An agreement between the two major parties should never take precedence over scientific studies.”

Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds Aaron Farrugia assured the Nationalist Party that all studies would be published in due time.

“Irrespective of what happens today,” he said, “both sides of the house need to ascertain that the development around the area is sustainable and that Gozo doesn’t become a block of concrete.”

“I wouldn’t say that this is a national project. The Gozo tunnel is a European project because it ultimately connects the island to the rest of Europe,” he said.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that despite some scepticism among some PN MPs, the agreement between the two major parties was obvious.

“This project is epochal, the largest infrastructural project in the history of this country, but this is not just an instance of an infrastructural project but an instance of political credibility since the project was agreed upon in each party’s electoral manifesto,” Muscat said.

On the issue of land reclamation, Muscat argued that the country had already experimented in this area: in Msida and the Freeport among other areas. He ascertained that the Environment and Resources Authority is currently carring out feasibility studies on land reclamation and that he had no doubt this would be discussed in parliament eventually.

Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said that he hoped that the social fabric of an entire community doesn’t get eroded for the sake of development.

“When you have a project of this size, its fundamental that all publications related to the project are made available to whoever is in charge of safeguarding the interest of the people” Delia said, adding that these publications should be made available before decisions are taken.

Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg confirmed that the studies will be published in the coming days.

The government’s move to submit the Gozo tunnel project as a parliamentary motion could have been interpreted as the government’s initiative to rope in the Opposition to back the contentious development.

The motion recognised the challenges the project is expected to create in terms of waste generated by the digging and the need to preserve Gozo’s natural beauty and its cultural identity.

Studies on the proposed tunnel that will have entrances at Nadur in Gozo and l-Imbordin in Malta said the project is expected to generate one million cubic metres of waste.

The Transport Ministry has also hinted that it would be impossible to integrate the tunnel into a national underground system.

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